Celebrating 50 years of iconic brain care

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Jan 31, 2018 3 minute read

Leksell Gamma Knife turns 50, systems worldwide have been used to treat over a million patients since 1968

  • Leksell Gamma Knife used to treat 80,000 new patients each year globally
  • With six generations, technology continues to evolve and is still gold standard for treating intracranial targets
  • Latest system, Leksell Gamma Knife Icon ushers in a new era of frameless, multi-session Gamma Knife radiosurgery

The first Leksell Gamma Knife® stereotactic radiosurgery procedure in a clinical setting was to treat a patient’s pituitary adenoma at Sophiahemmet Hospital in Stockholm on January 27, 1968. By 2018 — Gamma Knife radiosurgery’s 50th year — 1.1 million people around the world have received the therapy. Today, 330 clinical Gamma Knife units across 54 countries treat a combined 80,000 new patients each year.

“Prof. Lars Leksell would be enormously gratified that his invention has endured for so many decades, which is a testament to his commitment to continue building on, refining and innovating the Leksell Gamma Knife platform to improve patient care and outcomes,” remarks Elekta President and CEO, Richard Hausmann, speaking of the late Prof. Leksell, pioneering neurosurgeon and Gamma Knife creator.

Combining gentleness with gold standard precision

The undisputed gold standard for the treatment of intracranial indications, Gamma Knife radiosurgery is a gentler alternative to traditional brain surgery and whole brain radiation therapy for illnesses such as metastatic disease, which is cancer that has traveled to the brain from elsewhere in the body. With pinpoint accuracy, Leksell Gamma Knife delivers up to thousands of low-intensity radiation beams to one or more targets in single or multiple sessions.

The traditional indications for Gamma Knife radiosurgery are:

  • Benign lesions, such as meningiomas, acoustic neuromas and pituitary adenomas
  • Malignant tumors, such as gliomas and metastases
  • Vascular disorders, most commonly arteriovenous malformations
  • Functional disorders, most often trigeminal neuralgia

Leksell Gamma Knife became a commercial product in 1987 with the introduction of the model U, followed in 1992 with the B version. Ongoing hardware and software improvements resulted in models C and 4C in 1998 and 2004.

In 2006, Elekta introduced Leksell Gamma Knife® Perfexion™, which dramatically streamlined workflow and expanded the treatable volume through an automated, multi-source collimator. The changes enabled doctors to easily treat two or more – often many more – tumors in a single session. Patients with multiple metastases, in particular, benefited; doctors could use the Perfexion collimation system to create composite shots and no longer needed to change out the collimator helmets during treatment.

The most impactful upgrade to Gamma Knife technology is represented in Leksell Gamma Knife® Icon™, the platform’s sixth generation introduced in 2015. Icon integrates advanced motion management, frameless head fixation and cone beam CT (CBCT) tumor targeting capabilities. With these innovations, physicians can now practically perform frameless Gamma Knife radiosurgery and, in select cases, easily spread out the therapy over multiple sessions (i.e., fractionation).

Leksell Gamma Knife – sustainable innovation

*2,800 peer reviewed articles: with long-term outcomes in series of 30 or more patients
*2,800 peer reviewed articles: with long-term outcomes in series of 30 or more patients

“Leksell Gamma Knife is a perfect example of a disruptive technology that through continuous upgrades over the years is now considered a sustaining innovation,” says L. Dade Lunsford, MD, Lars Leksell Professor and Distinguished Professor of Neurological Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, and co-director, Center for Image-Guided Neurosurgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC). In 1987, Dr. Lunsford brought Gamma Knife to UPMC, the site of the United States’ first system. “When we installed the first unit 30 years ago it was kind of a gamble because no one knew its actual potential and its ultimate role. Now, UPMC has treated its 15,000th patient this year and the technology is well established.”


Iconic brain care

“Icon provides new clinical and operational capabilities, further expanding the use of Gamma Knife radiosurgery. The system is really a quantum leap for Leksell Gamma Knife technology,” Hausmann says. “Building on Leksell Gamma Knife precision and adding new technology, such as an imaging workflow and frameless alternative, Icon gives clinicians the option to perform single or fractionated, frame-based or frameless treatments, allowing for more individualized delivery – without sacrificing precision and accuracy.

“As remarkable as the first 50 years of Leksell Gamma Knife has been,” he adds, “the next half-century has the potential to transcend anything we can presently conceive of for this modality, allowing far greater numbers of patients to have access to this gentle and clinically-proven treatment method.”

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